Sunday, October 11, 2015

As I Lay Dying (1930)

I was impressed all over again by how difficult Faulkner can make things with his abrupt changes in point of view, even inside of one character, and here we are privy to the inside first-person views of some 15 characters. This often reads to me like Benjy Compson's first section of The Sound and the Fury, with simple declarative sentences and straightforward dialogue that yields very little directly. Even so, in As I Lay Dying the scope reaches biblical proportions of event, with both flood and fire and arguably locusts too, as it tells the story of a backwoods impoverished white Southern family attempting to transport the body of their matriarch, Addie Bundren, to her desired resting ground in Jefferson, Mississippi. Much grotesquerie goes on with the various family members and especially the corpse, to the point where it becomes comical. The corruption is passed out unequally but most of the characters share some taint—adultery, greed, pride, and sloth are the usual suspects among the God-fearing population of Faulkner novels. I respect it like hell for its adventurous experimentalism and for its usual x-ray of the bizarre (and still familiar) ways of the post-Reconstruction South. But it feels mannered and disconnected too, again reminiscent of Benjy Compson's narrative style. What I prefer of Faulkner, which is otherwise more commonly found, is the brooding ruminating free-flowing narrative voice, with long artful spiky sentences. It is an even more difficult style to read in some ways—the extreme is Absalom, Absalom!, which I admit is a bit much even for me—but also, once in, the most luxuriant and energizing to read. Light in August may be the best expression of it, or the rest of The Sound and the Fury, after the first section. Faulkner set out to write a tour de force with As I Lay Dying, and accomplished it on multiple levels—stylistically, by plot points, by influence (particularly on pulp noir writers), and by the way the story proceeds, like a relay match, handing off the baton of narrative chore to the next seeming random character, even as Addie Bundren reaches the point of her death, is put inside a box, and after some ordeals finally comes to be buried. It does what it sets out to do and it feels like an accomplishment to read it too, so all good all around, I suppose. But it feels mechanical too, it always has to me—something less than organic.

In case it's not at the library.

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